Aid to the Church in Need

Subscribe to Aid to the Church in Need feed
Stories from Aid to the Church in Need
Updated: 2 hours 12 min ago

In Mosul, another offense against humanity

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 14:07

It gave the world more proof of the nature of ISIS as an apocalyptic death cult whose only acts are those of murder and destruction.

By George J. Marlin

NEW YORK—This crime passed from the headlines all too quickly: on June 21, 2017, in an act of religious terrorism against Islam, ISIS blew up Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri with its historic leaning minaret—a medieval architectural and spiritual treasure.

It is an ironic and darkly fitting twist, as this was the very place where ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his one and only public appearance to announce the establishment of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Amazingly, when ISIS first captured Mosul on June 10, 2014, it intended to destroy the mosque right there and then but the local Muslim population—not yet brought into full submission—formed a human chain around the al-Nuri and ISIS relented.

In the end, with Iraqi troops approaching the Old City and set to capture the symbolic heart of Mosul, ISIS committed yet another act of wanton barbarism. It gave the world more proof of the nature of ISIS as an apocalyptic death cult whose only acts are those of murder and destruction.

The obliteration of this religious treasure is added to a long list of destruction of some of the most sublime expressions of the human spirit. For ISIS, these were all symbols of idolatry, to be destroyed to make way for an insane utopia of an Islamic paradise.

Among the casualties: numerous ancient churches and monasteries, shrines, including the tomb of Jonah; world historical sites, like the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud; and archaeological marvels of the Roman era in Palmyra, Syria. Priceless treasures all that did not belong solely to a particular religion but to the heritage of the human race.

Would that the loss of al-Nuri and the imminent fall of Mosul signal the demise of ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not miss the symbolism: He called the act of destruction “an official announcement of their defeat.”

Regardless, the remaining fight against Islamic fundamentalism and its suicidal remnants will be long, both in the Middle East and around the world. May this latest nihilistic horror prompt the world community to be more united than ever before in standing up for life, faith and freedom.

Mr. Marlin, author of Christian Persecutions in the Middle East:  A 21st Century Tragedy (St. Augustine’s Press), is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, an international papal agency that is spearheading an effort to raise more than $200M to fund the resettlement of Iraqi Christians on the Nineveh Plains.

 



Nineveh Christians are returning home to rebuild a life

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 14:10

"these families do not want to leave Iraq other countries. They insist upon staying in their homeland."

By Monica Zorita

“Returning home.” “To Sset foot on our soil again.” “To see the church again that we built ourselves.” “A new beginning.” “Keep going.” “We cannot live our entire lives as displaced persons.” “I do not want to leave my country.” “God is with us.”

THESE ARE but a few of the thoughts going through the heads of the Iraqi Christian Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) currently living in Erbil—where they have found shelter for nearly three years. But their homes and hearts are on the Nineveh plains. In the wake of the expulsion of ISIS from their land, they see their return to their native towns getting ever closer to becoming a real possibility. Even though the vast majority of the houses were destroyed or burned down, what is most important to them is that these are their own houses.

The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping to rebuild many of the houses on the Nineveh plains belonging to Christian families. Even though they would have the opportunity, these families do not want to leave Iraq other countries. They insist upon staying in their homeland.

Tawfeek Saqat from Qaraqosh is one such a determined faithful. He worked as a farmer before he was forced to flee ISIS. He also ran a small hotel. “I was born in this country. I have spent my entire life here. I do not want to leave,” he told ACN, adding: “My faith in Jesus gives me the strength to continue living here. Everything that I love is in Qaraqosh: my land, my business, my entire life. I am not going to emigrate so that I can live as an employee in Europe or some other place.” In this video, Tawfeek talks about how he and his family were persecuted for many years. The most harrowing time was when he and his four children were kidnapped by terrorists.



Young student Rahma Jacon also experienced great fear. She remembers what a wonderful and peaceful life they led a few years ago.  “I often have to cry when I think about how we lived. I would like to return to the Nineveh plains because that is our homeland, our houses, our church,” she told ACN. She explained that they never thought that their stay in Erbil as IDPs would last as long as it did. “Our faith gives us the strength to keep going. When times are difficult, I pray so that I am with God.”

The mother and grandmother Rahel Ishaq Barber pats herself on the shoulder as she proudly recalls how she and her people built 11 churches and chapels in Qaraqosh all by themselves. “I was still a child. We sang as we carried the stones for the churches on our shoulders. Our history is there.” Rahel is currently sharing a room in Erbil with eight other people. “It has not been easy. God has helped us a great deal. We thank Him.”

Since 2014, ACN has been at the forefront of supporting Iraqi Christians with its emergency relief projects, investing more than $35M to-date.This aid money has been used for rent, education, food and funds for the survival of IDPs. ACN has begun rebuilding the first 100 of the almost 13,000 houses on the Nineveh plains that were destroyed by ISIS. Total expenditure on the repair and rebuilding of homes alone is expected to exceed $250M.

Chaldean Sacred Heart Church being repaired in Telkef, Nineveh plains; ACN photo

A Pilgrimage to Fatima for 15 Young Russian Catholics

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:55

This pilgrimage will strengthen these young Russian Catholics in their faith and give them the opportunity to meet and pray together with thousands of other pilgrims from all over the world. It will be an experience that will remain with them throughout their lives.

This year the Church is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima. It was in the year 1917 that she appeared, on six separate occasions, to three shepherd children there with an urgent message for the whole world. Before the October revolution in Russia had even happened, she warned them of the dangers for humankind from Russia and from atheist communism and revealed to them that prayer, penance and interior conversion were the only means to prevent wars and disaster from engulfing the world.

On October 13, 1917, a crowd of over 50,000 people witnessed a miracle of the sun, in which the sun began to spin on its axis, then appeared to plunge down towards the earth in a zigzag course before rising back to its place in the sky again. This year, on May 13, Pope Francis officially canonized the two youngest visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta, in Fatima.

ACN, which is also celebrating an anniversary this year – the 70th anniversary of its foundation – has always been closely associated with the message of Fatima. For the founder of ACN, Father Werenfried van Straaten, the message of Fatima was always the guiding principle and the underlying theme of all his apostolate.

It was in 1942, as a young religious, that he first heard the message of Fatima and during his lifetime he on several occasions solemnly consecrated his charity ACN to Our Lady of Fatima. For him it was obvious that the world was in deadly danger if we failed to heed Our Lady‘s appeal.

The “all out rebellion against God” which led to the Russian Revolution and which was followed by an unprecedented persecution of the Church, still continues to this day in various forms and in various parts of the world. ACN is in part a direct response to Our Lady’s appeal for conversion and a turning back to God.

During this Jubilee year there are initiatives all over the world for commemorating the message of Fatima. ACN is supporting some of these, among them a pilgrimage of 50 young Russian Catholics to Our Lady’s shrine in Fatima. For these young Catholics, who live as a small minority within their country, the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to one of the greatest and most important Marian shrines in the world means a great deal.

This pilgrimage will strengthen these young Russian Catholics in their own faith and give them the opportunity to meet and pray together with thousands of other pilgrims from all over the world. It will be an experience that will remain with them throughout their lives and their journey of faith. With your help we are supporting this pilgrimage with a total of $7,300.

Will you give to support these young Russian Catholics in their pilgrimage to Fatima?


Code: 427-00-00

Return to Projects in Need

Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.

Support for the Life and Pastoral Apostolate of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus Word and Victim in Cuba

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:47

We are proposing to help the Sisters in their work with a contribution of $3,900 and also to help for their basic living costs with an additional $5,000. Will you help support the pastoral apostolate of these Missionary Sisters in Cuba as the travel to "where the tarred roads end"?

“Where the tarred roads end, the work of the missionary Sisters begins.” That is the motto of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus Word and Victim, first established in 1961 in Peru. The Sisters work especially in those areas where there are too few priests. 

Since 2016 some Sisters from this congregation have also been active in the Diocese of Santa Clara in Cuba. Bishop Arturo González Amador is delighted to have them in his diocese in this vast, remote and difficult region, marked as it is by extreme poverty and lack of infrastructure. Various sects are increasingly spreading here, and they seem to have more resources at their disposal than the local Catholic Church. Yet the bishop tells us how grateful these poor country people are to the Sisters for visiting them and helping them, and he praises their “tremendous pastoral zeal.”

The Sisters instruct both children and adults in the Catholic faith and prepare them for reception of the sacraments. They visit families in their homes and minister to the sick and the dying. They are also allowed, with the permission of the bishop, to organize Liturgies of the Word and to distribute Holy Communion, as well as to celebrate weddings and funerals. Many villages are so remote that they have not seen a priest for years. 

Often the people have only the most rudimentary knowledge of their faith. “Many of them say they believe in the Virgin Mary, but don‘t know about her Son. They have been living for many years without God and without any catechetical instruction,” reports Sister Veronica. Clearly, there is a great deal of evangelizing work to be done here. Happily, the children are very much open to this, and the Sisters teach them proper moral values and tell them all about Jesus.

We are proposing to help the Sisters in their work with a contribution of $3,900 and also to help for their basic living costs with an additional $5,000.

Will you help support the pastoral apostolate of these Missionary Sisters in Cuba as the travel to “where the tarred roads end”? 

We are sure they will remember you in their grateful prayers.

Code: 216-05-39

Return to Projects in Need

Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.

A Car for the Only Bishop in Nepal

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:39

Bishop Paul Simick, who is from India, needs to do a good deal of traveling in order to visit the isolated Catholic communities and strengthen and encourage them. Can you help him fund a car to do his wonderful work?

For over 240 years, until it became a republic in the year 2008, Nepal was the one and only Hindu monarchy in the world. While since 2006 Hinduism has no longer been the official state religion, the country is still strongly characterized by Hinduism. Hindus make up the overwhelming majority at over 80% of the population. The second largest group, at a little over 9%, are the Buddhists, while Christians account for just 1.4% of the population – and Catholics are a minority among them. Numbering just 8,000 or so, the Catholic faithful make up no more than a tiny minority of 0.1%.

The situation in Nepal is very delicate. In 2015, the country adopted a new constitution, and in the very same year it was struck by two severe earthquakes. In May 2017, the first local elections for 20 years were held; they are expected to be followed by Parliamentary elections in January 2018.

In April 2017, there was an arson attack on the parish house of the Catholic cathedral in Kathmandu. By the grace of God, nobody was injured in the attack. The perpetrators and their motives are as yet unknown, but it is not the first time that the tiny Catholic community in Nepal has been the target of such attacks. In May of 2009, a bomb exploded in the cathedral, and now many Catholics are afraid.

The Vicar General, Father Silas Bogati acknowledges: “From time to time we Catholics here are discriminated against, and although we are Nepalese citizens, we are treated like foreigners, simply because we are Christians. Unfortunately, in some sectors of society there are hostile attitudes towards the Christian communities.”

The Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal covers the entire country, and Bishop Paul Simick, who is from India, needs to do a good deal of traveling in order to visit the isolated Catholic communities and strengthen and encourage them. But his car is already 12 years old and has suffered a great deal of wear and tear during this time.

Now that spare parts are no longer obtainable, the bishop must purchase a new vehicle. Nepal is an overwhelmingly rural country and a great part of it lies within the Himalayan mountain range. The great majority of the population live outside the towns, so the pastoral journeys the bishop has to make are long and arduous and make heavy demands on any vehicle.

Since all vehicles in Nepal are extremely expensive, the bishop has turned to ACN for help – and we have gladly promised him $44,800.

Will you give to help the only bishop in Nepal so that he can more easily reach his small and threatened Catholic community?

Code: 338-08-29

Return to Projects in Need

Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.

Sponsor the Training of Future Priests in Madagascar

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 09:53

These young men are being intensively accompanied, intellectually, spiritually and morally, along their path to the priesthood. Will you help sponsor the training of these future priests?

The Archdiocese of Antsiranana in the extreme north of the island of Madagascar has an area of some 14,600 square miles – almost twice the size of New Jersey. Yet with just 1.6 million inhabitants, it is relatively thinly populated. A little over 40% of the population is Catholic, and the 65 diocesan priests and 42 religious priests in the archdiocese have to care for parishes that are in many cases as large as dioceses would be in other parts of the world.

In this situation, one of the most important priorities is the training of future priests, and happily, there are no fewer than 69 young men currently preparing for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary of Antsiranana.

In this seminary the greatest care is taken to ensure that these future priests are given a thorough and sound formation. Not only is their training intellectually solid, they are also formed spiritually and in their character in such a way as to become true shepherds to the Catholic faithful. Everything they learn at the university must be “nourishment for their spiritual life,” as the rector explains.

The seminarians must first and foremost be men of prayer, praying the Rosary privately or together in groups, devoting themselves to spiritual reading and to half an hour of silent prayer before Holy Mass. Another vital point is the formation of conscience. They must also cultivate a sense of discipline and duty and a strong sense of responsibility and respect for shared property. In order to strengthen them in this spirit they are given individual responsibility for specific small duties within the seminary. They must also be psychologically well-balanced and emotionally mature.

These young men are being intensively accompanied, intellectually, spiritually and morally, along their path to the priesthood. We have promised to support their formation this year with a total of $14,900.

Will you help us fulfill this promise to sponsor the training of future priests in Madagascar? We are sure they will remember you in their grateful prayers.

 

Code: 134-04-79

Return to Projects in Need

Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.

Bicycles for 30 Catechists in Ethiopia

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 09:03

On Sundays, catechists often have to travel many hours on foot to reach villages where there is no priest to celebrate Holy Mass. That way they can at least pray with the local people and instruct them in the Catholic Faith. Can you help with supplying bicycles to make this travel easier?

The Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella lies in the extreme west of Ethiopia. On the frontier with South Sudan, it is a remote and underdeveloped region where there is widespread poverty. Many of the children are visibly malnourished, and there are recurrent intertribal conflicts, especially between the more settled, farming tribes and the nomadic herders. The cattle eat the farmers’ crops, and the farmers are taking away the traditional grazing lands of the herders.

In this conflict over scarce resources, clashes can be frequent and violent. In recent times, there have also been clashes between the local population and refugees of the Nuer tribespeople from South Sudan. According to the UNHCR, there are currently over 330,000 refugees from South Sudan in the area – almost as many people as the existing population of Gambella.

In early 2016, there was violent unrest here, with numerous deaths. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is working strenuously for peace and reconciliation and is the only force in this region – a potential powder keg – that is capable of combating the violence, hatred and rising anger.

There are many people in this region who have still never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many of them are open to the faith, well disposed to the activity of the Church and eager to receive baptism. But the region is remote and the villages widely scattered. There are too few priests, and so catechists play a vital role, both in preparing people for baptism and in promoting the process of peace and reconciliation.

On Sundays, these catechists often have to travel many hours on foot to reach the villages where there is no priest to celebrate Holy Mass. That way they can at least pray with the local people and instruct them in the Catholic Faith.

ACN has promised $8,400 to equip some 30 of these catechists with a bicycle each. This will help them to save time and energy and enable them to better carry out their vital and precious service. They will be able to reach more villages and to devote themselves still more intensively to the work of evangelization.

Will you give to provide bicycles for catechists in this remote and impoverished region of Ethiopia?

 

Code: 118-07-29

Return to Projects in Need

Aid to the Church in Need commits to invest your funds where they will have the greatest impact for the Church that we serve. Funds donated to Aid to the Church in Need’s projects will be used towards the greatest need in our programs to help keep the Faith alive.

On the Nineveh plains, priests become builders

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 10:33

"Here in Iraq, if the Church does not tackle these things, who else will do it? We have the skills, the ability to engage in dialogue and the necessary contacts."

By Daniele Piccini

SOMETIMES unusual circumstances require that priests have to step out of their strictly pastoral roles. On the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq ISIS has left in its wake some 13,000 damaged or destroyed homes belonging to Christians eager to return to their ancient communities. To help them, a number of priests have taken on the role of engineers and master builders.

Syriac-Catholic priest Father Georges Jahola is a case in point. After celebrating Mass, he is often occupied with ordering electrical equipment, window fittings, sanitary equipment and other building materials. “Here in Iraq, if the Church does not tackle these things, who else will do it? We have the skills, the ability to engage in dialogue and the necessary contacts,” explains the priest. Formerly based in the newly liberated city of Qaraqosh, he is a member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), which is tasked with planning and supervising the rebuilding of thousands of Christian homes.

In Qaraqosh, no fewer than 6,327 homes belonging to Syriac Catholic Christians are in need of rebuilding—at least 108 of them are totally destroyed—while some 400 homes belonging to Syriac Orthodox faithful need attention.

However, there is no lack of enthusiasm or ability. “After the liberation of the town, between [in the late fall], we spent 15 working days photographing 6,000 houses in Qaraqosh, Father Jahola told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. He added: “we divided them up and mapped them sector by sector, assessing the degree of damage in each case. There are houses that have been very badly damaged or even destroyed, which need completely rebuilding; and there are houses that have been burned or struck by missiles, which can still be rebuilt. And then there are houses that have been only partially damaged and can be repaired without much difficulty.

“We began work with a team of 20 volunteer engineers. Today I have 40 of them helping me and almost 2000 able-bodied workers ready to start work. We are optimistic about it. The reconnection of the electrical supply is slowly being extended throughout the town.”

The first rebuilding projects are focusing on those villages where ISIS forces only stayed for a short time, without doing too much damage. “We have begun rebuilding work in Teleskuf and Bakofa, because the damage to the houses is not too serious, unlike in Badnaya, where 80 percent of the houses have been destroyed.” This assessment came from Father Salar Boudagh, 35, vicar general of the Chaldean Diocese of Alqosh and also a member of the NRC, with a special responsibility for the rebuilding work of five Chaldean Catholic villages on the Nineveh plains—Teleskuf, Bakofa, Badnaya, Telkef and Karamless.

“Before the arrival of ISIS,” said Father Salar, “there were 1,450 families living in Teleskuf, 110 in Bakofa, 950 in Badnaya, more than 700 in Telkef and 875 in Karamless. For these families the first precondition for returning to their villages is security. Our area, the eastern part of the Niniveh plains, is patrolled by a Christian security force, the Zeravani, who can give us a 100 percent guarantee of security. They are an official militia whose members are paid a salary by Kurdistan,” the semi-autonomous part of Iraq that has sheltered up to 120,000 Christian IDPs since the summer of 2014 when ISIS captured Mosul and the Nineveh plains.

Financing the process is a big hurdle. The almost 13,000 houses that now need rebuilding, following the ravages of ISIS, have been divided according to the levels of damage. “It costs $7000 dollars to refurbish a home that has been lightly damage,” Father Salar explained, reading the figures from his smartphone. “To repair a house that has been burned out costs $25,000; to rebuild a house that has been totally destroyed costs $65,000.”

I pray to God,” he concluded, “that the benefactors of ACN, who have helped us so much up till now, will continue to help us in every way possible—to rebuild our homes and our villages, to encourage the families to return and re-establish Christianity in the land of the prophets.”

Father Jahola; ACN photo

 

 

Missing nearly three years, Iraqi Christian girl escapes ISIS grasp

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 14:22

"What happened with Christina and with her family and with us is a 'divine miracle!' "

On Aug. 7, 2014, ISIS captured the Nineveh plains, expelling many thousands of Christians—but many faithful remained trapped, including the family of Christina Hanna, who was three at the time, and her parents, Mr. Khouder Ezzo and his wife Aida Hanna. On Aug. 22, 2014, robbed of their money and gold, the family was allowed to leave Qaraqosh, but in a cruel twist of fate an ISIS militant grabbed Christina at the last moment. Miraculously, Christina reappeared, alive and well, was rejoined with her parents on June 10, 2017. Witness to this happy ending was Father Ignatius Offy, a Syriac Catholic priest based in Ankawa, Kurdistan. He spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Maria Lozano

Father Ignatius, how did come that you know the family? 

Christina’s family and I are from the town of Qaraqosh. The families in our region know each other well and we all have close social relations. In addition, I am a priest, and since the beginning of our forced displacement from our region on the night of August 6-7 2014, I have been tracking people captured by the Islamic State.

I have submitted the list of persons whose fate is still unknown to many individuals, organizations and associations. Among the names, of course, was Christina—he youngest of them all.

How are you feeling after her miraculous return?

What happened with Christina and with her family and with us is a ‘divine miracle!’ In my humble opinion, this is the fourth birth of the child Christina. The first time when she was born to her parents, the second time was at her baptism, the third time was when a Muslim family adopted and took care of her during the period she was lost, and finally when she returned to her family and her Christian community. Christina was given a new life. We thank God for His work with her, with her family, and with all of us.

Do you know where Christina was hidden during these three years?  

Christina’s father explained to us after the kidnapping: “We kept asking the people who remained in the region about our daughter. The last phone call we had was with one of our relatives who assured us that Christina is fine and was seen with one of ISIS soldiers near the mosque. All communications were cut off after that.” Five months after her abduction, Christina’s family was informed by one of their acquaintances that the baby was fine and living with a Muslim family in Al-Tanak area in Mosul.

At that time, the Muslim family had taken Christina from a mosque in Mosul, took her to their home and treated her like one of their own. They wanted to reunite the baby with her own family but they feared for her safety. So they kept, protected and took care of her and her needs.

How did her family keep the faith during Christina’s disappearance? 

For two years, Christina’s family heard bits and pieces of her but could not communicate directly with her. Many foreign and Arabic news agencies and satellite channels who met Christina’s family and wrote about her abduction made her story widely spread. Her parents and family toiled in searching for her and published her photo. Her father prayed the rosary each day for her return. He kept the pictures of saints next to Christina’s image on the inner walls of the caravan where they lived in their involuntary exile.

How was possible to bring her back to her family now?

After the fighting erupted in the south of Mosul, the Muslim family which had adopted Christina moved to a safer place. The father got hold of the cellular number of one of Christina’s family. He got Christina’s elder brother’s phone number and called him late at the night of Thursday June 9, 2017 and asked him go to Kojli district in Mosul to take his sister.

On the morning of the next day, Friday, June 10, Christina’s family went to the rendezvous point and the two families met. Christina was handed over to her real family. She was in good health. Her parents thanked the family who took care of her during the last three years. Christina was finally reunited with her real parents, family, relatives and her people.

How is Christina now? She has to be very confused…

Today, the baby girl is almost six years old. She’s still shocked and scared. She has forgotten her real father, mother, brother and sisters. She has also forgotten what she had learned of her Syriac mother tongue. She could only speak Arabic. She speaks very little with her family and with the guests that come to visit. Sometimes she smiles at them and sometimes she doesn’t. She plays with the gifts people are getting her when they visit to see how she’s doing.

And how will you describe the reaction of the parents, the family – the whole community praying and waiting for her for so long time?

The mother was really emotional and the tears of joy filled her eyes. She describes her baby’s return as a “miracle.” She is shocked at how big she has gotten and changed; she didn’t recognize her. “We thank God that He saved her from ISIS,” said the father. As for her brothers and sister, they couldn’t explain their feelings about the return of their youngest sister.

The community welcomed Christina home with music and dancing. They threw her a little party at the compound where the family lives. A special prayer server of thanksgiving was held for her and for the missing people still held by ISIS.

As you said, Christina is not the only case of Christians and Yazidis children abducted by ISIS, do you know about other cases of return?

I don’t know any other children other than Christina who have been liberated and got reunited with their families. What I know is that we have many Christian persons who were captured by ISIS but who haven’t been heard of ever since, including little children, teenagers, men and women, young and old.

Do you know about the future plans of the family?

Christina’s family home in Qaraqosh is destroyed. They currently live in a camp for the Christian refugees in a small two-room caravan. Her older brother, who works in an Erbil bakery told us: “Honestly, we do not have any future in Iraq. Six months ago, we applied for a visa to migrate to France but haven’t got any response yet. This caravan is small and life is hard.”

I plead with all the organizations and associations which take care of children to help Christina’s family and offer the young, still-in shock, Christina psychological support and help her re-blend inwith her family and community.

Do you have a message for all the friends and benefactors of our organization around the world?

My message is like a prayer: “We thank the Lord for his great blessing and miracle that He gave us. We thank the Muslim family that took care of Christina. We thank all who made an effort for her return. We pray for Christina for a new start in getting to know her real parents and family and blend in with her Christian community. We pray for Christina’s family, still in shock to see their baby again.

It was a true miracle, a new birth and a new life. We pray for whoever lends a helping hand for the baby and her family in any way possible. We pray for the return of all the captives, prisoners, and abducted person still held by the ISIS and other factions. We also pray for peace, security and stability to prevail in our wounded Iraq, and the whole world. Amen.”

 

Sudan Archbishop: 'We must evangelize the culture'

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 16:24

"Families must learn to see the need for priests as something that concerns them directly."

Archbishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria has been in charge of the Archdiocese of Khartoum since November 2016. Archbishop Michael Didi recently spoke about the situation of the Church in Sudan with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Oliver Maksan.  

What do you see as your biggest pastoral challenge?

I am concerned above all about education and the formation of the faithful in general. But I am particularly concerned about the spiritual formation of the religious, the seminarians and the priests. Their numbers have suffered greatly since the division of the country in 2011, when many of our staff left us to head back south.

To what extent has the division of the country in 2011 affected the life of the Church?

Massively, because the greater part of the clergy and our pastoral co-workers were originally from the South. Here in the North there are very few native Christians. And even today we are in a situation where the overwhelming majority of my clergy are not from the North. Of the 51 priests and deacons only five are from the North. The rest are all from the South. This has consequences in terms of their right of residence. Following the split between North and South, the South Sudanese automatically lost their citizenship in the North. And so they are often at best tolerated here. Theoretically they could even be expelled from the country. But the authorities have understood how important the clergy are for us in the Church. So for the present we have no problems in this regard, thank God.

What is the situation with regard to priestly vocations?

Rather bad. Unfortunately, we have only a few seminarians. And the reason for this is hard to put our finger on. But undoubtedly it has to do with the fact that the mentality of young people has changed. Perhaps the strict discipline that I still remember from my own formation is no longer attractive. But perhaps also there is a lack of awareness as to how crucial the priest is for the Church. We are after all a sacramentally ordered Church. And so without priests there can be no Church. Consequently, we will have to encourage a deeper awareness of this among the people—above all in the families. They must learn to see the need for priests as something that concerns them directly.

How deeply rooted is the Catholic faith in Sudan? After all it only arrived here in the 19th century.

We are only at the beginning of the evangelization. We need to rethink the way in which we proclaim the Word of God. Until now we have tended to look above all at the numbers. It was seen as a success if many people were baptized. But we baptised so many heathens without there being any real conversion. Many people also misunderstand the meaning of baptism. They bring their children for baptism because they are sick and they think that baptism will heal them. But this is not the attitude we need. And so the faith is not really deeply rooted, but above all it is not fully understood. What is more, our local traditions are still very strong.

Can you give an example?

Yes, take the question of polygamy. The people want to have offspring and heirs at any cost. And so they often have several wives. And if they have only one wife, to whom they were married in church, but don‘t have any children, then they take another. That is of course not in accordance with the Christian understanding of marriage. And they also do not understand that our priests are not allowed to marry.

How are you responding to this?

Well, we have to really dig deep here and evangelize the culture. It is not in fact the case that there is absolutely no understanding for the teaching of the Church on marriage, when we endeavour to explain it to people. But we have to make them more fully conscious of it. This is a catechetical challenge of the first order, which I intend to tackle with my priests. We also need to form our catechists better. But above all it is up to us bishops and priests to proclaim and bear witness to the faith. But as I have said, we cannot play down the problems, above all in conveying the teaching of the Church on marriage. We are fighting here against a deep-seated cultural mind-set.

What encourages you when you look at your local Church?

I take joy in the fact that the people are happy and proud to be Christians. They also wear Christian symbols with pride and conviction. And the people are strongly involved in the life of the Church. As I said, what is lacking is the depth. But the people are of good will and have an open heart for Christianity.

Given the fighting in South Sudan, many South Sudanese Christians are also fleeing into the North.

Yes. This is a massive challenge for us as the Church. We are talking of several hundred thousand people who have fled to the North from the South. As the Church we are considering launching a major appeal to address the humanitarian challenges. In addition to the war refugees in the camps there are also those South Sudanese who, following independence, wanted to make their way back to their home lands, but have been forced on account of the war to remain in the North. Theoretically, they are not allowed to work here officially, because they have no papers. That has serious consequences. We in the Church are trying to help where we can. Above all we are trying to teach the children in our schools. But there are so many of them, and our resources are limited. We don‘t even have enough money to feed the children. The need is great; we cannot cope with it alone.

The Catholic cathedral in Khartoum, Sudan; ACN photo

 

 

In Aleppo, a careful return of Christians

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 15:45

"The consequences of the war are still very much present, the people have been left profoundly impoverished."

By Josué Villalón 

ALEPPO, Syria—Franciscan Father Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest of the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi—the center of the Latin Catholic community in Syria’s second-largest city—had some assuring words for a visitor: “We are very happy to confirm that in the last two months or so 15 families of the Christian community of the Latin rite have returned to Aleppo. One family returned from France, another from Germany, three from Venezuela and several others from Armenia.”

The total number of Christian families of other denominations and rites who have returned to Aleppo is as yet unconfirmed, but it is hoped that hundreds will return in the next few months. Father Alsabagh told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “A number of families who have returned from Armenia or Venezuela are telling us that all the families there also wish to return. For example, more than 400 families who found refuge in Armenia are now hoping to be able to return. It is notable that when the Church helps these families, they feel more secure and are willing to return home."

Other Christian families from Aleppo who have returned to their homes have come from within the country, from other cities such as Latakia, Tartus and Marmarita. “The prices in these regions are also increasing rapidly; consequently, as the situation stabilizes in Aleppo, these internally displaced families are preferring to return to their own homes,” the Franciscan continued.

The situation in Aleppo has improved in recent months since full control of it was taken by the government at the end of December 2016. Said Father Alsabagh: “Although there are still some suburbs on the outskirts of the city that are in dispute, the bombings have ceased and security has returned to the streets. Nevertheless, the consequences of the war are still very much present, the people have been left profoundly impoverished, there is a shortage of work and wages are minimal, owing to the devaluation of the currency. There are only two hours of electricity a day and food prices have gone through the roof. Before the war one dollar was equivalent to 50 Syrian pounds, but today it is equivalent to 550 Syrian pounds."

“The situation in Aleppo is certainly better today. There is security in the streets and in the churches. But at the same time we are beginning to suffer the consequences of the war – the poverty, the shortages of food and other essential family needs, and numerous signs of trauma as a result of the war. The principal needs of the people are on the one hand help with the cost of food, electricity and healthcare. But at the same time we are helping with the rebuilding of the city, which means not only helping to rebuild people’s homes but also supporting education and the formation of the young, so that they can have a future.”

He concluded: “I am most grateful. On behalf of all the Christians of Aleppo and all the families of the Latin rite I want to express to you my most sincere thanks. We are praying for all of you that you may always have peace in your hearts and in your countries and that you may never have to go through the terrible experience that we have witnessed here in Syria.”

Father Alsabagh; ACN Photo

In Marawi City, Filippino Muslims shelter Christians from jihadist militants

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 11:06

"You will have to kill me first before you even touch them."

By Josemaria Claro

FARIDA, a Muslim store owner in Marawi City, had no choice but to let the terrorists that barged in her store last May 24 plunder her goods and products. But when the armed men turned their attention to her 13 male employees huddled in a corner of the store, Farida looked the men in the eyes and told them in Maranao, “You will have to kill me first before you even touch them.”

The terrorists, mostly in their teens, sensed the seriousness of Farida’s resolve and contented themselves with their loot. Farida knew she had to resort to such extreme measure to prevent any interaction between the gunmen and her employees who were mostly Christian migrants from nearby provinces. They have worked for almost a decade for Farida. Had the gunmen talked to them, it would be immediately found out that they were Christians and they would have been taken along with their families.

After the terrorists fled, Farida immediately ordered all her employees to hide in a relative’s house. She then contacted an uncle to facilitate the escape of her Christian employees by boat to cross the Maranao lake, and from there travel safely towards Iligan City. Farida’s story was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), one of the nation’s most widely-read newspapers.

In their language, Maranao means people of the lake as the elevated city of Marawi is located along the shores of the majestic and placid Lake Lanao. The Maranaos are the largest of the thirteen ethnic Muslim groups in the Philippines with each group having its own culture, literary tradition, and language. They are known for their music, epics, and textiles. They are also famous for their trading skills which let Marawi City flourish as a business hub from the early 1900s.

As skilled tradespeople, the Maranaos are among the more affluent Muslim groups in the Philippines and Marawi City is one of the few places in the country where Christians from nearby provinces work for Muslim employers. Some Christians have decided to migrate to Marawi thanks to the good treatment of Muslim employers like Farida, who lets her workers live in their family compound.

Other stories like that of Farida’s have been reported in various Philippine newspapers in recent days. There is also the story of Zaynab, a humanitarian worker who personally went along with 20 Christians along a 15-hour alternate route to avoid the gridlock of fleeing residents north of Marawi City.  “I never minded the danger. I was prepared to die first before they (terrorists) could harm the Christians,” Zaynab told reporters.

The Philippine Star recounted how a Muslim prosecutor sheltered 42 Christians in a building that he owns before facilitating their escape in small groups. It also published a story about how seven Christians studying in Mindanao State University were trapped in their dormitories for days with three other Muslims. All throughout the ordeal, the Muslims assured their Christian schoolmates that should they be captured, they would never forsake them.

Marawi City Bishop Edwin dela Peña told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need how a local Muslim official advised the family of his personal driver and their other Christian companions about what they should tell the terrorists in the event of a confrontation. He then personally led them to buses that would take them to safety in Iligan City.  “I would consider him a hero for leading these group of Christians and Muslims together, trying to flee from the danger that was awaiting them,” Bishop dela Peña said.

Devastation in Marawi City

 

Ukraine's Cardinal Husar: 'Death has not extinguished his voice'

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 10:58

"In this hour of sorrow ACN stands united with Greek Catholic believers in Ukraine."

By Eva-Maria Kolmann 

On May 31, 2017, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the long-time leader of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, passed away. Baron Johannes Heereman, president of international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), paid tribute to the cardinal, who was 84, as a “true man of God” and a “Church leader of profound wisdom and circumspection.”

The cardinal, who served as major archbishop of his Church from 2001 to 2011, worked intensively with ACN for many years and was a close friend of Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of the organization.

In May 2015, the cardinal spoke “of this close connection with deep emotion” and had emphasized “the courage with which Father Werenfried had dared to approach all people after the [World War II]—even former enemies—and call for reconciliation.” At the time, the cardinal also expressed his concerns about the future of the young generation, Baron Heereman said, adding: “I can still recall the words that he spoke so clearly with his quiet and melodic, yet so emphatic voice. It was a voice that had much to say to the world and that was heard and respected by many people in the Ukraine and far beyond—and not only by Catholics. I am sure that death has not extinguished this voice, quite the contrary.”

Back then, the cardinal had warned that many people in Ukraine had yet to overcome the communist legacy. He said that it was necessary “to study Soviet times with care in order to be in a position to help young people avoid these mistakes in the future.” However, on the other hand, Cardinal Husar also emphasised that it was necessary to closely consider “what alternatives are being offered to the youth and whether one is looking at the right models.” Western Europe, he argued, was also “not an ideal model.”

“In this hour of sorrow,” ACN stands “united with Greek Catholic believers in the Ukraine,” Baron Heereman continued. “We join them in praying to God that He may grant the deceased eternal light. In countless churches, voices will be raised in song for him: Vichnaya pamyat—‘may he be eternally remembered.’ Aid to the Church in Need joins in this prayer and this wish.”

ACN already supported the Church in Ukraine during Soviet times, when it was only possible to practice the faith underground. Cardinal Husar once wrote to Father Werenfried van Straaten: “Today it can openly be said that, up until the end of the communist era, you were the only Church organization to send aid to the Church in the Ukraine and you have remained the greatest benefactor of the Ukrainian Church.”

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, ACN helped the Church in the Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure and strengthen its pastoral mission; the organization continues to support numerous projects there today.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in 2015; ACN photo

 

Iraq: 'We want to rebuild our convent and return home'

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 09:39

"We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home."

On the Nineveh plains, more than 360 churches and Church properties have been damaged or destroyed by ISIS. Among them are a number of convents, including one that belonged to Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, two of whose members, Sisters Luma Khuder and Nazek Matty, spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Daniele Piccini 

SISTER Luma Khuder and Sister Nazek Matty are hopeful about the rebuilding of their convent, Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf, to the north of Mosul. They are encouraged by the fact that the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church jointly established the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), whose task—for starters—is to oversee and plan the repair and rebuilding of almost 13,000 family homes.

In fact, until the summer of 2014—when ISIS captured the Nineveh plains, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena had convents in several towns in the region. The sisters fled with the rest of the Christian population to Kurdish Iraq, where they became IDPs under the care of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil.

Sister Luma told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the sisters immediately jumped into action to help the uprooted faithful by distributing food and other essential supplies. They set up “emergency convents” to remain close to the people under their care. In 2015, the sisters opened two schools as well as a nursery, which are serving close to 1,000 students.

In the wake of the ouster of ISIS from the Nineveh plains, however, the situation is changing dramatically. “There is no longer any danger in Teleskuf, and a number of families have now returned to their homes,” said Sister Nazek, and Sister Luma added: “ACN is starting to rebuild the homes, including those in Teleskuf. ISIS only stayed in the village for a short time, and so the houses are not too badly damaged.

"We are also repairing our convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf. We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home.”

“We know that since January 2017 some 450 families have returned to Teleskuf, and many others are preparing to return,” said Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads ACN’s Middle East desk and serves as chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “Today, of all the villages on the plains of Nineveh, Teleskuf is the safest,” he said, since the Kurdish army controls the area.

Father Halemba expressed his hope that “the return of the Christian families to Teleskuf will have a ‘domino effect’ on the families from the other villages, who are still hesitating to return because they worry that the situation is not yet altogether secure.”

“ACN will be contributing some $45,000 towards the cost of restoring the Dominican convent in Teleskuf. The sisters need to return as soon as possible, for the families have need of them.”

“Across the Nineveh plains as a whole, there are 363 Church properties that were damaged by ISIS and which now need to be repaired or rebuilt. Of these, 34 have been totally destroyed, 132 were set on fire and 197 are partly damaged. In Teleskuf alone we have counted 1104 private homes and 21 Church properties that have been damaged by ISIS,” reported Father Halemba.

 Sisters Nazek Matty (left) and Luma Khuder; ACN photo

 

 

Philippine bishop worries about setback in Christian-Muslim relations

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 11:21

"The local people of have always been very peaceful. They are angry at these terrorist groups coming in to disturb Ramadan."

In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Edwin dela Peña, who heads the Prelature of Marawi, the Philippines, discussed the situation in Marawi City where Muslim extremists have killed more than 100, burned down the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, and are holding hostage Father Teresito Suganub, the vicar general, along with a dozen or more staff members from the cathedral. To-date some 12,500 families have been displaced by the violence as the army is clashing with the militants.  

By Jonathan Luciano 

What was the state of Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the assault by the jihadist Maute group?

Marawi is about 95 percent Muslim. We are a very tiny minority. Yet, we have been engaged

in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. Father Suganub has been working with Muslim NGOs that have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was a beautiful situation until this extremism emerged, through the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East, and the radicalization of young people. However, the relationship with our Muslim partners has always been very positive—and they also oppose this influx of ISIS-related elements coming into Marawi.

The local people of have always been very peaceful. They are angry at these terrorist groups coming in to disturb Ramadan. So if these extremist groups had counted on getting the support of the people, they are not getting it now.

Do you have any updates about Father Suganub and the other kidnapped Christians?

We know from a video that he is alive! I am happy about that but sad also about those critics who castigated him for his message [calling for a halt in military operations]—without any regard for his present situation as a hostage. We have lost our sense of humanity! I grieve for this country and I am so sorry for the situation of this priest and the other hostages.

How will this situation affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?

Unavoidably, some of the natural biases that Christians have against Muslims will be stirred up again. Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process and these incidents can destroy the foundation that we have built. Some people are fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments—just as we’ve made a very good headway improving the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. In fact, comparing our relationship with Muslim-Christian relations elsewhere in the country, I can safely say that ours is the best.

For example, our schools—which have been operating for decades—have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians alike. These institutions have trained the city’s professional class, building up a kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools among the Muslim population.

Marawi City on fire

 

Philippines: abducted Christians used as 'bargaining chips'

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 13:23

Jihadism is on the rise in the in the country.

By Marta Petrosillo

NEW YORK—“I hope the government will act wisely and prudently in order to avoid a bloodbath.” The words are those of PIME missionary Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, who is referring in particular to the abduction of Father Teresito Soganub, together with 15 other Christians, in the last few days in the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

Just a week ago Islamic jihadist extremists of the so-called Maute group seized control of the town. The dramatic clashes between Islamist rebels and the Filipino army have so far claimed some 100 lives and there are reports of barbarous killings and beheadings by the Islamist group.

In a telephone interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father D’Ambra explained how the Islamist terrorists had abducted the Christians and set fire to the cathedral. “Probably, their intention is to use the captives as bargaining chips in order to persuade the army to withdraw,” he said.

The Maute group is affiliated with ISIS, to which it has pledged allegiance, the reason why it is now flying the black ISIS flag in the overwhelmingly Muslim city of Marawi. It is now becoming clear that members of the Islamist terror group Abu Sayyaf were also involved in this most recent attack.

Jihadism is on the rise in the in the country. Militants have succeeded in attracting new recruits, partly through ideology but also through the promise of lavish rewards. Father D’Ambra also mentioned “international interests that are seeking to destabilize this region. There appears to be a plan, which will continue in the same direction. The situation in Marawi will calm down before too long, but the terrorism will not stop.”

Radical Islamic terrorism has a long history on the island of Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf group was widely in action. The radicalization has continued since then with the proliferation of Islamist movements of Wahhabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia. Also, for decade or so there has been a strong and growing presence of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah, which originated in Indonesia. And in the last three years ISIS has found increasing support on Mindanao.

Just as in Marawi, in Zamboanga City, on the western tip of Mindanao—where in 2013 the terrorist Islamist paramilitary group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) destroyed half the city—the government has also declared martial law. “The authorities are calling on us to remain vigilant. There are many miles of coastline and numerous islands where the extremists can easily hide,” said Father D’Ambra.

Father D’Ambra himself has been living in the Philippines for 40 years and is the founder of the Silsilah movement, which has been striving since 1984 to promote interfaith dialogue. It has the support of part of the local Muslim community. “Incidents like what has happened in Marawi can only further aggravate a situation that is already complicated enough and make still more difficult the promotion of interreligious dialogue still more difficult,” he concluded.

Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME; ACN photo

Philippines: abducted Christians used as 'bargaining chips'

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 13:23

Jihadism is on the rise in the in the country.

By Marta Petrosillo

NEW YORK—“I hope the government will act wisely and prudently in order to avoid a bloodbath.” The words are those of PIME missionary Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, who is referring in particular to the abduction of Father Teresito Soganub, together with 15 other Christians, in the last few days in the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

Just a week ago Islamic jihadist extremists of the so-called Maute group seized control of the town. The dramatic clashes between Islamist rebels and the Filipino army have so far claimed some 100 lives and there are reports of barbarous killings and beheadings by the Islamist group.

In a telephone interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father D’Ambra explained how the Islamist terrorists had abducted the Christians and set fire to the cathedral. “Probably, their intention is to use the captives as bargaining chips in order to persuade the army to withdraw,” he said.

The Maute group is affiliated with ISIS, to which it has pledged allegiance, the reason why it is now flying the black ISIS flag in the overwhelmingly Muslim city of Marawi. It is now becoming clear that members of the Islamist terror group Abu Sayyaf were also involved in this most recent attack.

Jihadism is on the rise in the in the country. Militants have succeeded in attracting new recruits, partly through ideology but also through the promise of lavish rewards. Father D’Ambra also mentioned “international interests that are seeking to destabilize this region. There appears to be a plan, which will continue in the same direction. The situation in Marawi will calm down before too long, but the terrorism will not stop.”

Radical Islamic terrorism has a long history on the island of Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf group was widely in action. The radicalization has continued since then with the proliferation of Islamist movements of Wahhabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia. Also, for decade or so there has been a strong and growing presence of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah, which originated in Indonesia. And in the last three years ISIS has found increasing support on Mindanao.

Just as in Marawi, in Zamboanga City, on the western tip of Mindanao—where in 2013 the terrorist Islamist paramilitary group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) destroyed half the city—the government has also declared martial law. “The authorities are calling on us to remain vigilant. There are many miles of coastline and numerous islands where the extremists can easily hide,” said Father D’Ambra.

Father D’Ambra himself has been living in the Philippines for 40 years and is the founder of the Silsilah movement, which has been striving since 1984 to promote interfaith dialogue. It has the support of part of the local Muslim community. “Incidents like what has happened in Marawi can only further aggravate a situation that is already complicated enough and make still more difficult the promotion of interreligious dialogue still more difficult,” he concluded.

Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME; ACN photo

Catholic aid official calls for 'urgent, comprehensive' protection of Egyptian Christians

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:12

Marlin called for an "urgent, comprehensive anti-terror security network" to protect Christians in Egypt.

NEW YORK—In the wake of today’s killing of 26 Coptic Christians in Egypt’s Minya Province, the head of an international Catholic charity called on the Egyptian government, the US and other Western nations to commit significant resources to protect the nation’s vulnerable Christian community.

Since December 2011, in three separate attacks on worshippers in Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta, ISIS claimed responsibility for the deaths of at least 78 Christians. The group is the likely perpetrator behind today’s attack as well.

George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA—referring to the terrorist attack earlier this week in Manchester, England that killed 22 people—said that “vulnerable as European countries and the US are, there is a comprehensive security apparatus in place to prevent many attacks and conduct in-depth surveillance of potential attackers.”

Marlin called on the international community to work still more closely with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and begin laying the foundation for such an “urgent, comprehensive anti-terror security network” to protect Christians in Egypt.

A regional approach, he added, could provide added protection for Christians in Lebanon and Jordan as well—“and even begin to come up with some answers for the grave difficulties confronting Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.”

“Pope Francis had a chance to enlist the help of the US when he met with President Trump the other day,” said Marlin, who cited the statement issued after that meeting as saying that the Pope and the American president discussed “the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”

“It’s one thing to talk about political negotiation and interreligious dialogue,” said Marlin, “but clearly something more concrete has to happen as well: a major commitment on the part of the US and other nations to fund the kind of intelligence-gathering and unflinching counter-measures that can begin to guarantee the safety of highly vulnerable Christian populations in the Middle East.”

 

China's communists 'are afraid of Our Lady of Fatima'

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:09

"The state leadership will not accept any other outcome than the subjugation of the Church to the leadership of the Communist Party."

The retired bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, visiting the German Marian shrine at Kevelaer, spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on the situation of the Church in China.  

By Berthold Pelster

Over the last four decades, the People’s Republic of China has undergone enormous social change. The country has grown prodigiously to become an economic and technological world power. What role does communist ideology still play in this process today?

The leadership in China never really took communist ideology very seriously. Instead, Chinese communism is a form of unbridled imperialism. Rampant corruption, also within the party, attests to this. Everything is about power. Absolute obedience to state leadership is the only thing that counts. And through the opening upof the economic sector and growing affluence, this is all just getting worse. Wealth fuels corruption to ever greater levels.

Political observers say that the human rights situation has actually deteriorated under the current president, Xi Jinping. Do you agree?

In the beginning, I had high hopes because the president took action against corruption in the government and society. But it very quickly became evident that he was also only interested in power. People who are fighting for human rights are suppressed, persecuted, humiliated and convicted in propaganda trials overseen by his government.

Can you tell us something about the current status of the negotiations between the Chinese leadership and the Holy See?

Unfortunately, little is known about these talks. There are still a lot of other problems. I expect that the talks will still take a long time. In my opinion, the state leadership will not accept any other outcome than the subjugation of the Church to the leadership of the Communist Party. Bishops of the underground Church, for example, were forced to attend political training courses during Holy Week and could therefore not celebrate the liturgy with believers. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of reconciliation in his letter to the Catholics in China in 2007—for him, this largely meant spiritual reconciliation. But much still needs to be done!

That sounds very pessimistic. What do you expect will happen to Christianity in China?

Everything depends on whether we manage to live our faith authentically—without making a lot of compromises. There are Christians in China who bravely advocate for a better society. However, many of them are in prison! Should communism fall one day, then the Catholics should be among the first to build up a new China. However, that only works if Catholics have not already squandered their credibility beforehand by making lazy compromises with the communist leadership.

This month of May marks the centenary of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima. The messages of Our Lady there warned about the godless ideology of communism. Are Catholics in China aware of these messages?

Of course! All of us have heard of the messages of Fatima. Even the communists! They make them very anxious. The communists are actually afraid of Our Lady of Fatima! The whole situation is becoming ludicrous: for example, the communists have nothing against you bringing pictures of Maria Immaculata or depictions of the miraculous image featuring “Mary, Help of Christians” into China from abroad.

Pictures of “Our Lady of Fatima,” on the other hand, are not allowed. Authorities consider the events in Fatima to be “anti-communist.” That is of course nothing but the truth!

The veneration of Mary under the title “Help of Christians” also holds special meaning for China: on its feast day, May 24, the Catholic Church holds a worldwide prayer day for the Church in China. Pope Benedict XVI introduced this day in 2007. What is the significance of this day of prayer?

The veneration of Our Lady under the title “Help of Christians” is deeply rooted all over China and has been so for a long time. This title not only refers to help for individual believers, but also to help for the Church as a whole. The chief danger in China today is materialistic atheism. Unfortunately, this day of prayer—which is valid for the Catholic Church all over the world—is far too little known. It is not taken seriously enough.

Our Lady of China; ACN photo

 

 

Iraq: 'Many Christians hope to return to their homes'

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 13:21

"Current estimates are that at least 10,000 IDP families remain in the greater Erbil region."

Christian IDPs in Erbil, Kurdish Iraq continue depend to depend on aid as they are awaiting the opportunity to return to their home on the Nineveh plains. They have been cared for by by the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil—under the leadership of Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, Css—ever since ISIS invaded their homeland in the summer of 2014. Archbishop Warda, in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), takes stock.

By Maria Lozano

Please describe the context and the general situation of the Christian IDPs in Erbil now.

At present there are still more than 10,000 Christian IDP families in the greater Erbil region. While many still hold a hope to return to their homes in Nineveh, for the majority of them this remains a very uncertain time due to the continuing conflict in the region and lack of any stable security plan from the central government in Baghdad or the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  There is at present no meaningful plan or support for reconstruction in these towns from either the KRG or the Central Government in Baghdad. As such the IDPs currently in the greater Erbil region face the two main obstacles: lack of security and lack of civil infrastructure. In this environment, the majority of the IDPs are not willing to return yet to their former homes, especially in the Iraqi controlled sector of Nineveh, which includes Qaraqosh.

The situation in the Kurdish controlled sector, which includes the towns of Teleskof, Batnaya and Baqofa, is somewhat clearer as it pertains to security, and returns to those towns are beginning.  However, these returns are completely dependent on private sources of funding for reconstruction

Regarding the economic situation of the IDPs—what are their living conditions? What do people lack most?

The IDP families are nearly all unemployed, or employed on the books of the government but without any meaningful pay. Such employment as does exist is largely in the form of self-employment, selling various items on the street, in most cases without proper permits. Those with savings at the outset of the crisis have in most cases greatly depleted these funds in the past three years. We expect to see a rise over the coming months in terms of the need for financial and humanitarian assistance. The three most critical areas of need continue to be housing, food and medicine.

Could you please describe the situation of the children and of the youngsters?

Thanks to the heavy involvement of Church-based support, schools have been built to handle the needs of the IDP children at the early ages and elementary school. Significant assistance in terms of both teachers and facilities are still available at the High School level. However, college level access for the IDPs remains a crisis and many students have been forced to delay their college years. This problem is a specific issue for the IDPs as the universities in the KRG are generally using the Kurdish language for instruction, a language in which very few of the IDP students are fluent.  The recently established Catholic University of Erbil, which has English as its language of instruction, has sought to address this issue by focusing on IDP student scholarships, but additional funding is still needed to support this effort.

 What is the situation of the elderly people?

They are experiencing a true crisis. In many cases, elderly IDPs have been left behind by their children who have left the country.  In nearly all these cases the only support group for the elderly is the Church. The Archdiocese of Erbil has made repeated efforts to establish basic living facilities and proper care for the elderly, but meaningful support has not been found due to the emphasis being placed on the basic needs of the broader population. As many of these elderly individuals are now without family to support them, this crisis is expected to continue even after any return to Nineveh by the general population.

How may IDPs remain in Erbil?

The situation regarding IDPs remains fluid, but current estimates are that at least 10,000 IDP families remain in the greater Erbil region who are in need of food assistance, with well over half of these individuals being women, children, and the elderly.  Reliable statistics are not available regarding the numbers of sick due to lack of coordination between medical facilities, but anecdotal evidence from the clinics run by the Archdiocese of Erbil indicates high levels of chronic diseases, especially among the elderly, which are in most cases related to the stress and the difficult physical conditions that are part of their IDP status.

How are the IDPs in Erbil feeling at the moment, after the villages on the Nineveh plains have been liberated?

The feelings and disposition of the IDPs varies according to the town they are from and their economic condition.  Those IDPs from the towns in the Kurdish sector have greater optimism given the clarity of Church leadership and the security structure that exists there.  Those IDPs whose homes are in the Iraqi sector, which represents 70 percent of the total Christian IDP population, are generally in a very uncertain and fearful state of mind.  While their towns have technically been "liberated,” the political and security situations remain very dangerous and unclear. Despite the firm support of the local Church, many Christian IDPs continue to feel abandoned by both governments (within Iraq and abroad) and by major international aid organizations.

Are there many people traumatized?

The mental condition and traumatization of the IDPs is a crisis of its own.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is clearly evident in those that faced violence first-hand. Depression and anxiety are at extremely high levels among adults. Treatment is hampered by the lack of capacity of medical and psychological treatment, as well as by the cultural reluctance to admit to any sort of mental weakness. .

Yet, people’s faith by all accounts has remained very strong.

Without question the persecution which the IDPs have faced has made their faith stronger.  We see this every day.  Having had the very existence of their faith threatened with extinction, the people have come to value its importance in their lives in a much deeper way. The people’s highest hopes are for the welfare and safety of their children, as would be the case for parents anywhere. 

Since March 2016, ACN has been the only organization consistently providing help for the IDPs. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2014, ACN has provided a total of $27M in food aid and in the provision of housing and shelter.

Archbiishop  Warda inspects IDP food supplies; ACN photo

Pages